Introduction to STEM
I WANT TO LEARN
I would like to learn how to design activities that challenge students to create solutions to real world problems. I generally find that those activities can either be frustratingly challenging for the students, have no satisfying conclusions, or are too easy as solutions already exist.
MY INITIAL THOUGHTS
Today is April 11, 2022. It is the first day of the spring semester and my first day of taking classes as I work towards my post-grad certificate. What I know of STEM before starting this program is relatively little in terms of being able to describe the pedagogy and approach to teaching and learning. I’m sure however, that my practical knowledge of science has given me a strong intuition in the principles that STEM teaching will focus on. I know that STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I believe the goal is that, through the promotion of STEM, we can encourage students, especially female students, to engage and develop an interest for these areas of study that may lead to future careers in those disciplines. I also envision a very practical and hands on approach to learning that includes inquiry and activities as much as it does standard lessons.
IDEAS FOR IMPLEMENTATION
My first idea to implement a STEAM approach to my teaching is to make some adaptations to a current project I have for Life Sciences 11. I have a project where students write a funding proposal for a new drug they have developed. They need to explain how they will test their new drug on rats to make sure that it is safe and effective for human use. I am planning on adding in an arts design element where students have to design a flyer and/or product packaging to go with their proposals. I will be touching base with the computer science teacher to see where their photoshop skills are at that grade level, and if I can push them to use appropriate digital technology for industry standards. I think using photoshop would be a more authentic integration of digital arts rather than just putting something together in Word or Paint.
Steam vs stream
STEM is an acronym that was developed in 2001 by scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (Loewus 2015). STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The goal of STEM education is to foster student interest in STEM courses and to develop students’ skills so they will be successful in their future STEM careers.
Education Closet writes about STEAM education in their article “What is Steam Education” (2019), where they describe the integration of the arts into STEM education. STEAM education represents a movement in education that focuses on enriching the experiential learning process of STEM. The goal of STEAM is to improve student’s ability to make deeper connections by authentically incorporating the arts. Like many education models designed for the benefit of modern learners, without understanding the intention behind the education model, the experience and learning for students may fall short of expectations. Education Closet writes that STEAM requires an emphasis on “student inquiry, collaboration, and process-based learning” in addition to including instruction and assessment of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Science. It is important that when teaching STEAM, instructors do not simply identify the parts of the lesson or activity that fall under the category of arts, and instead are actually teaching arts standards at an appropriate grade or skill level.
Those who support STEM education believe that the arts are already included in STEM activities naturally, as they are needed to solve real world challenges and communicate results (Jolly 2014). They may not feel the need to provide formal opportunities for learning or assessment and may be content knowing that development of literacy skills is inherent when students are authentically learning in STEM. STEAM appears to have the best intentions of being truly cross-curricular. Science lessons developed under the STEAM model don’t just include a simple written response to a few questions, or include a craft activity with cutting and gluing. Instead, standards from grade appropriate English or Art courses are brought into the activity and are assessed with as much significance as any other skill being developed by the activity. The STEAM education model encourages assessment over evaluation in order to evaluate student growth rather than mastery (Education Closet 2019).
Literacy is an important part of communication, and communication is an important part of careers in STEM. True STEM education should be adequately preparing students for the challenges of modern-day careers in science, where communication skills are an absolute necessity. Communication skills are essential to being able to share your work; this is an important step of research and development in the scientific community. Presentation of student work therefore is also an essential step in the STEAM process.
STREAM represents the addition of reading and writing to the STEAM education model (Root-Bernstein 2011). Communication is an important facet of careers in STEM, and a large part of successful communication is reading and writing. The average student may not be aware that careers in STEM may look quite different than what goes on in a traditional Science and Math classroom. The act of publishing research, giving scientific talks, and communicating and working with a team, are as essential to success in most STEM careers as the factual knowledge or design processes themselves.
Education Closet wrote about the 4Cs of 21st century skills: “Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication.” Whether teachers prefer the STEM or STEAM or STREAM education models, the common goal is to help develop student’s skills so that they will find success in the challenges that come with STEM careers and citizenship in the 21st century.
STEM in SECONDARY SCHOOL
STEM Teaching Framework
In the introduction of “Teaching STEM Effectively with the Learning Cycle approach” by Dr. Dass, he writes that “the Learning Cycle approach is a ‘continuous’ instructional process.” I couldn’t help myself from immediately thinking oh no, not another inquiry model. I was then pleasantly surprised to find the 5E Model of Learning Cycle to be delightfully filled with the words of the scientific method. It was at this point that I reminded myself that the spiral of inquiry is, in essence, pretty much the same as the scientific method. However, that’s a side rant for another day.
The 5E Model begins with the engagement phase. Sometimes under the time pressures of teaching, I do find myself skipping this first step of engagement. I appreciated his list of suggestions about doing a demo or watching a video, but let’s be honest sometimes the coolest tricks we have are just not fly on a sleepy Monday morning. Ideally, I am all about getting students excited to learn something new. Realistically, I know this is not happening on a daily basis for all my learners.
The exploration phase sounds pretty straight forward. Get the students doing something: “designing and conducting experiments; participating in laboratory activities; building and examining models; running simulations of natural phenomena; conducting “virtual” (online) experiments or simulations; gathering information from print resources (including the textbook), online resources, or human resources; performing specific tasks”.
The elaboration phase specifically states “This is the phase in which students get to apply the knowledge gained in the lesson to new situations” and I am wondering where exactly the lessons came into the story. Did we do the lessons before we got the students engaged? Did I gloss over lessons as a part of the exploration phase? Moving on.
The evaluation phase sounds like a natural conclusion to the end of the Learning Cycle, but it’s a cycle and goes right back to the beginning! This is the part of the 5E Model that I was most interested to read an explanation for. How can I connect the evaluation and assessment of the first activity to getting the students engaged in the next? How can I turn a discrete STEM activity into a part of students ongoing learning journey? This is the core of the new BC curriculum design; allowing students to continuously improve their learning as well as continuously demonstrate that learning. Alas, no explanation given. The wheel seems to have a flat spot.
In summary, I’m not sure why I felt the need to critique this article so much, when I actually really like this simple (scientific) model. I think it’s a straightforward and clear way to describe the learning process for STEM activities. I also appreciate that this model acknowledges the importance of a strong start (engagement) and finish (evaluation), in addition to the focus on the STEM activity itself. I would enjoy spending more time reading about this method and hearing examples of its use in the classroom.
“When push comes to shove, it’s not STEM vs. STEAM—it’s about making every student a fully-literate 21st-century citizen.” - Anne Jolly
As I first considered my philosophy for teaching with a STEM education mindset, I was determined to learn exactly what it is that makes a good STEM teacher. I quickly discovered that my idea of STEM as a concrete and fixed philosophy was wrong. There are a wide variety of nuances in this area of encouraging students to enjoy STEM lessons and to pursue STEM careers. I have come to agree with the statement above from Anne jolly, that what matters most in a teaching philosophy is not which educational approach is best, but what skills I can help develop for the learners that I have, to best prepare them for their futures.
I believe the key to having students fall in love with STEM is true engagement in the learning process. This begins with accessibility. My goal is to best prepare all of my students, not just the ones I believe will continue into STEM careers or post-secondary education. This requires me to focus on creating projects that are both grounded in real world challenges while still being open ended in terms of allowing for a variety of successful end products. The goal of these STEM projects is to develop skills during the process of learning, rather than improving the quality of the final product. All students feeling like they have a chance at being successful in the task is an important step in maintaining engagement, and fostering passion, through any STEM activity.
In my classroom I strive to make true connections between our lessons and activities and the development of the 4C’s of 21st century skills: “Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication” (Education Closet 2019).
Module 1 Summary
The first module for learning about teaching STEM in grades 11 & 12 has been focused on the conversation about STEM vs STEAM vs STREAM. STEM represents a way of teaching that can help learners develop the ability to solve real world problems by combining skills from multiple disciplines. In traditional school models, these subjects have been taught independently. Integrating STEM education is essential to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to solve real world problems. STEAM education represents a movement in education that focuses on enriching the experiential learning process of STEM. The goal of STEAM is to improve student’s ability to make deeper connections by authentically incorporating the arts. STREAM represents the addition of reading and writing to the STEAM education model (Root-Bernstein 2011). Communication is an important facet of careers in STEM, and a large part of successful communication is reading and writing.
Dass, P. (2015, January-March) Teaching STEM Effectively with the Learning Cycle Approach. K-12 STEM
Education Vol. 1, No. 1, (pp.5-12). http://onq.queensu.ca/content/enforced/667126-CONT951001S22/Teaching%20STEM%20Effectively%20with%20the%20Learning%20Cycle%20Approach.pdf
Jolly, A. (2014, November 18). STEM vs STEAM: Do the Arts Belong? Education Week.
LaForce, M., Noble, E., King, H., Century, J. Blackwell, S. H., Ibrahim, A., & Loo, S. (2016, November
21). The Eight Essential Elements of Inclusive STEM High Schools. STEM Education Journal. https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-016-0054-z
Loewus, L. (2015, April 2) When Did Science Education Become STEM? Education Week.
Root-Bernstein, M. & Root-Bernstein R. (2011, March 16) From STEM to STEAM to STREAM: Writing as an
Essential Component of Science Education. Psychology Today.
The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM (n.d.). What is Steam Education? The Institute for Arts
Integration and STEAM. www.artsintegration.com/what-is-steam-education-in-k-12-schools